Thursday, June 12, 2014

Not the Board's business #1

Another story about a Board becoming involved in a school's operations with the inevitable and costly results. Heads and faculty run schools; Boards do not. Boards set the strategic direction and overall policies,  provide funding (ie, through fundraising) and employ the Head, their only employee. So what happened this time?

About twelve years ago, this school was in a real mess and close to collapse. A new Head was brought in and turned it around. Today, the school is one of the top in the state, nationally accredited, nationally known, academically and athletically very successful. Staff and student retention is high. It has expanded from K - 5 to PK - 12, owns its own campus and has recently built state-of-the-art Middle School, High School and gymnasium buildings. Its mortgage is less than rent would be and it is developing a respectable endowment.

The Board goes through a typical recruitment process. Candidates serve a year or two on a committee, and may then advance to the full Board from which the Executive is selected. A Governance Committee ensures a balance of the "three Ts", proper vetting and ongoing professional development. The Chair is selected from amongst Board members a year or so prior to serving, and goes through specific training, including the NAIS Board Chair training. This school's Board has been stable and highly effective.

Until last year when the Board Chair was unexpectedly transferred to another state, not in itself a problem, to rescue a failing division. He felt he did not have the time to be Chair and so resigned. I do not know why, but the new Board Chair had been on the Board for only one year and had not gone through any of the usual preparation or training.

A few months into her role, the Board Chair sent an email to the Head stating that she was writing as a parent, not as a Board member, and she had some concerns over a teacher. He acknowledged her email, and assured her usual Policies and Procedures would be followed. Coincidentally, this teacher was new to the school and was struggling to adapt to the new school's way of doing things. The Head had already had discussions with the Division Principal about identifying major areas of concern and providing the necessary support to address them.

A week or so later, the Board Chair sent another email to the Head instructing him to terminate the teacher. Not at the end of the year, but then. The Head met with her and explained this is operational and not the Chair's purview, that there were Policies and Procedure in place which were being followed and that dismissing a teacher mid-semester would be highly problematic and potentially damaging to the students, the school and the teacher. As Board Chair, she typically received more specific and/or confidential information than the Board in general and so he also told her of what he and the Division Principal were doing.

Essentially, he refused to fire the teacher.

A few weeks later, he was summoned to a special Board meeting to discuss his "insubordination". Such a meeting should never have been held, although the full Board came out in his support and affirmed that such operational matters were not within their remit. However, the Head found the whole incident and what had been said to and about him unacceptable. He gave notice, and now another school in another state will have the benefit of his talents. A Board Chair not accepting her roles and limits lost the school the one person responsible for the majority of its considerable success.

Footnote - the Board hired a national search firm to find a replacement through a nationwide search. Curiously, for a school of this caliber and this renown, the new Head comes from a third-tier school in the same city. I am not saying that he will not be good, however it appears that top and/or national candidates were scared away. Time will tell what effect one bad Board Chair has on what was an excellent school.

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